Organizations battling the military regime in Myanmar have proliferated since the February 1, 2021 coup in the country, which is one of the many reasons why the current uprising is very different from the opposition to previous junta regimes.
These resistance groups can be broadly clubbed into four categories: ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), People’s Defense Forces (PDF), People’s Defense Teams (PDT) or Pa Ka Pha, and the Local Defense Forces. In some places, the categorization gets blurred as in Kalay, where the LDF active at Letpanchaung identified itself as the Pa Ka Pha.
While some PDFs were constituted by the opposition National Unity Government (NUG), others were formed independently by local communities. In some regions, PDFs have assumed different names such as the Chinland Defense Force (CDF) in Chin State. A majority of the PDFs has been recognized by the NUG and in many places in the country they operate under the command of the EAOs in a system of joint command. In Sagaing Region, the PDFs operate in close association with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the CDFs with the Chin National Front (CNF) in Chin State.
The LDFs and PDTs are local militias that operate more independently than the PDFs. According to an estimate by the NUG last year, there were 259 PDF battalions consisting of more than 65,000 fighters nationwide and 250 Pa Ka Pha groups in 330 townships. The NUG views the PDFs as the precursor to a federal union army and it aims at merging them with the numerous EAOs into the future federal army.
During my travels in Myanmar’s Chin State and Sagaing Region between January and March 2023, I visited camps of the Chin National Front, Chin Rifles, Kalay PDF, CDF Thantlang, an abandoned village where the Mountain Eagle Defense Force is based, and a spot in Kalay where the morning drill of the Chin National Defense Force (CNDF) was conducted.
The camps were spread out across Chin State and Sagaing Region and differed in terms of size and resources. Better coordination among the groups was apparent in Chin State which has 18 resistance groups, including the CNF, as members of the Chinland Joint Defense Committee (in addition to other groups) than in Sagaing Region where more resistance squads are engaged in the battle against the military regime.